Today’s edition of Series V is the third of a multi-part series on press and public relations for startups in Africa. You can catch up on the past two editions here and here. This week, we’ve called in the calvary. JessicaHope, Founder & Managing director of Wimbart, a boutique public relations company with a heavy emphasis on emerging markets, shares how early-stage companies can win at PR.
Jessica has worked with companies like Iroko, Andela, Piggybank.ng, Itanna, Farmcrowdy, and other well-known companies and brands.
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On getting your feet off the ground.
For a lot of startups, getting on the press ladder is difficult. So what they should do first is start engaging with the local press. Start reaching out to Techpoint, TechCabal and other local publications. Don’t be fixated on Techcrunch or CNN. Working with local media (including journalists from newspapers) will help startups get an idea of the kinds of questions journalists ask and how to engage them.
If your local tech community isn’t writing about you, then I’d be surprised if international tech writers do. Being in local press opens the door to international news because they can get a picture of what you are doing from a google search. Start from your local community, and begin building those relationships. Retweet their articles, pitch to them, go to their events [it’s critical to have an elevator pitch ready]. Try and meet them face-to-face and that makes it easier to start engaging with the international press.
On profiling and picking the right reporters.
I say to startups, especially in their early days, that they should consume the media they want to be in and attend events where they think the journalists are going to be. The idea is to start developing a personal relationship with them. You don’t always have to pitch a story. Sometimes you might want to tell a journalist about what you’re doing, so when you eventually have a story, they can make that connection. But I think it is essential to be targeted in your approach when sending out press releases.
So, if you’re a fintech company, you need to find journalists who write about fintech, tech, or finance. I wouldn’t even try and pitch a fintech story to the entertainment editor at the Guardian. It’s about doing your research. These days, It is easy to build a picture of journalists and reporters because of Twitter, so you can find out what their primary area of interest is and then figure out how to engage them. So, you might do things like start liking or retweeting their tweets or engaging them in meaningful debate. It’s important to get on people’s radar in a right way.
Major key: when emailing journalists, try and use personal names, so they know it’s not just a mail blast.
On Founder-led PR
The first step is keeping track of the growth story through a blog, or Medium page. It comes in handy when you do get big. Also, writing helps you collect your thoughts. If you don’t use a PR agency, that’s absolutely fine. A lot of companies in the early stages can’t do that, but it is at that stage you at least go to some events or find someone within your company who is a good advocate for your company who can speak authoritatively about what you do. You should look at how other press releases are structured, so if you’re writing your own press release, you could use templates of other reputable press releases. Next, you need to make sure that you target the press releases to the key outlets and engage on a local level.
More importantly, you need to figure out why you need PR. Ask yourself “what do we need? What’s our business case right now?” if your business case is you need more for consumers, the next set of questions are: how are we going to get more consumers? What do we think our consumers are reading? How do we think they are going to be influenced? You have to understand your market and be smart about how you target them.
Storytelling for founders.
It is basically being able to paint a picture of the problem you’re tackling and how you’re addressing it. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Or a story of scale and growth, providing data is useful as well. If for example, you’ve partnered with a huge bank, that’s interesting and adds weight to your story. If you’ve secured investment from a famous investor or VC, that is of interest as well. So there’s a lot of different aspects that make up a good story and also providing numbers help. A lot of startups say “we are the number one this or we are the leading that” but they can’t provide evidence to back up that claim. And a journalist isn’t going to believe you just because you say it.
On how to decide on and craft interesting news.
An excellent deciding factor will be if you are recording some fantastic results, that will be one of the first things or if you’re doing something entirely different. For example, the most recent campaign we worked on was PiggybankNG (a VP portfolio company), we did their fundraise announcement. They have a fascinating story. The company essentially started from a twitter conversation because people wanted a savings platform and then fast-forward to a year and a half after, they have 53,000+ users on their platform. Having that traction is evidence that the platform works. Then on top of that, they raised 1.1 million dollars which again adds another layer of interest to the story. And importantly, they also actually started engaging with local media by themselves before they engaged with Wimbart. By engaging with local media, they were able to open the doors and start having conversations with investors.
Keep reading local and international outlets and figure out what are common things that make up an exciting story and try to work out how you and your company with limited resources and budget can try and achieve that.
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